by Anne Mulliner
It’s more than 20 years since I started using the term “coach” to define what I did to colleagues, peers and superiors at my various employers. Like many people who enter the profession, I wanted to help everyone I came into contact with and I felt responsible if they didn’t get great results following our conversations. If I am honest, in my early days I was probably just a “warm bath” coach – meaning my clients had a nice experience, but it was transactional safe questions I asked, rather than transformational challenging questions they needed to be asked.
I also had a lot going on for myself and I used coaching clients as a distraction for my own problems. I found myself attracting clients who were experiencing similar challenges to my own, so their agenda and my agenda at times got blurred and I spent too long trying to understand their story, believing I needed this to help them.
Experience and being coached myself by some amazing coaches, has taught me a completely different approach and led to my clients voting me Executive Coach of the Year in 2011. Here are my favorite 6 tips to help you become more than a “warm bath” coach.
1. Sort out your own stuff first. As a coach you have to be totally present for your client, so you need to make sure that you are able to clear your mind of the things going on in your own life and be able to focus 100% on your client.
2. Have your own coach! I am amazed at how many coaches I meet at conferences or training events that tell me they don’t work with a coach themselves. We all need a coach in our lives: someone who is interested in helping us stretch ourselves but who won’t confuse their agenda with ours, like our friends do when they give us advice. Working with different coaches allows you to experience different techniques and learn as well.
3. You don’t need to understand their story. Most coaches at some time will come across the GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Will) model and will spend far too long on Reality, simply because they believe they need to understand that, so they can come up with the right questions to ask to get the client to come up with Options. Instead, you have to trust yourself as a coach that you will know the right questions to ask. Some of my best coaching is done when I have no idea what I’m coaching the client on. I ask the questions that come into my head and see where the client goes.
4. It is not your job to fix your client! Sad but true: there will be clients you meet who may choose not to take action even after working with you. Experienced coaches learn to recognise clients who will resist change and may opt to not take them on. Over the last 15 years I turned down two perspective clients because I didn’t believe they were serious about taking the level of action they needed to improve their circumstances.
5. Trust yourself! Sometimes I act as supervisor for coaches who are just starting out and many of them ask for a list of my best questions and I always disappoint them. Yes, I do have a few questions I use that will get results, but I trust myself enough to know I will ask great questions based on the particular client I’m working with. It is impossible to ask a bad question!
6. Shine Bright. I have won work because people have observed me first without knowing what I did and then when they found out, decided they wanted to work with me just because they had formed an opinion about my identity based on how I behaved. So, no matter where you are or what you are doing, shine brightly because you never know who is waiting to come and work with you.